business news in context, analysis with attitude

Apologies to MNB readers who have been missing the “Your Views” section over the past few days. I’ve been traveling a lot, doing a bunch of speeches … this sometimes means that I’m burning the candle at both ends. Sleep and “Your Views” tend to suffer, but hopefully this compilation will make things right…

I suggested a few days back that I tended to be in favor of rules that would mean unhealthy foods could not be Acquired using food stamps.

MNB reader Bob McGehee responded:

Good idea in theory but unmanageable in practice. 
As a 40+ year supermarket veteran, I’ve seen virtually all forms of abuse of this well-intentioned program that truly does need some oversight.  BUT, absent a UPC specific list provided by some government agency that’s updated daily, this will not work.  Expecting a 16 year old cashier with 45 minutes of training to explain these guidelines/decisions equals a lot of arguments and nightmares at the checkout lane. 
This will generate a lot of good political fodder but no real solution.

MNB reader Doug Galli chimed in:

As a retailer that accepts SNAP, I’m struggling as to where the American Journal of Preventive Medicine receive their information on retailers more heavily promoting sugary drinks when SNAP benefits are issued. In our 80 plus sites we do not take into consideration at all the timing of the distribution of SNAP benefits when determining our promotional plans.
We are much more concerned with the time of the year than the time of the month.

MNB reader Steve Ham wrote:

I think it’s an incredible concept, to not only improve dietary choices but also to reduce waste. Fact: convenience stores are not the best choice for cost savings or healthy eating options.

Opinion:  If you’re on government assistance, taxpayers have a right to select what is paid for.

Prediction:  the convenience store lobby & any sugary manufacturer will be against this (roll eyes).

Hope: wouldn’t it be great if this had bi-partisan support, and also spread to other states?

Wish: would you keep us updated on the progress of this legislation?


From an MNB reader about Amazon’s decision to make one-day delivery the default offering for Prime:

As a 3rd Party Amazon seller that does mainly FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon) and pays very high fees for the service, I am a bit concerned.  How much is Amazon really going to invest and how much will they increase the FBA fees?  On average, 50% of my sales price to Amazon shoppers goes to Amazon between referral fee (typically a 15% fee from every sale) and FBA fees.  Not to mention the advertising that I pay to Amazon.  If the one-day charges get pushed down to the 3rd party sellers, prices to the consumer will have to increase. I just hope that Amazon keeps its word and invests its own money rather than asking the 3rd party sellers to do so.

Got the following email from MNB reader Peter Wolf about checkout-free stores deciding to take cash:

I believe companies like Amazon are investigating and testing technologies that can automate cash acceptance and change dispensing. Full disclosure - I work for a company that manufactures cash automation solutions. We are seeing this all over the county - companies looking to make cash payment as easy and simple as swiping a card. Store associates don’t have to deal with cash and consumers are free to pay as they choose. New cash automation solutions have come along way from the “one bill at a time” vending machine cash processing. This could be the next evolution of payment.

Walmart announced the other day that from now on, shoppers who come into its US stores to buy tobacco products will have to be 21 years old to make those purchases.

I commented:

Kids are stupid. Kids think they’re bulletproof. I think this is just fine … in fact, I think they ought to make the minimum age 101, since we know from experience that manufacturers say they don’t target young people, and then do everything they can to addict them as young as they can. Shame on them.

One MNB reader responded:

With this logic, then raise the age to enter military and engage in combat, raise the age to vote and raise the age for a drivers license. I am not a tobacco user and have a 19-17-16 but a bit of hypocrisy.

And regarding privacy issues surrounding smart speaker systems like Amazon’s Alexa-powered devices, MNB reader Chris Weisert wrote:

I guess it amazes me that these devices/systems that “learn” your interests in order to “better” serve you, surprise some folks when they realize their data is being saved and analyzed. Am I missing something?

On another subject, from an MNB reader:

I feel obligated to chime in on “Last Straw for Coffee Cups” following three of your readers expressing reservations about companies allowing/encouraging customer use of reusable cups. I think that this initiative, and all other reasonable sustainability-minded efforts, need to be championed at every opportunity because of the simple facts that the world’s natural resources are finite, as is the space available for landfills, and the capacity of our oceans and their ecosystems to continue functioning in the face of pollution (etc etc) while our human appetites have no limit.  
The reason behind two of the comments was hygiene, which is a reasonable concern, but one that need not (and should not) get in the way of these initiatives. We’re talking about refilling cups, which involves transferring a liquid via pouring, making the hygiene concern splashback, which baristas are pretty adept at minimizing (they are in the business of pouring liquids, all day, every day) and which isn’t about to kill you, anyway. You’re encountering comparable other germs and gross things when you touch the outside of that cup that’s been handled by other people, interact with the point of sale system, the door handle, the person behind you who doesn’t cover their mouth when coughing, and on and on. I am a thermos user myself and even though I wash my thermos every day, coffee stains! So it has a patina, and that doesn’t make it infectious.
Paper cups, alas, are mostly not recyclable. All of those that are not labeled biodegradable (the vast majority) have a very thin layer of plastic laminated into them that makes them waterproof. Those that are biodegradable are only that way when they are put into the right environment, either a commercial or personal compost process which includes a healthy population of microbes, a regulated temperature, and monitored moisture levels, none of which is present in the landfill most of these items end up in. I see no point in debating which harm is greater, “paper” cups or plastic bottles: we know they both have their issues and at that point, I feel that it’s irresponsible to ignore that knowledge. To me the greatest hazard is people choosing to ignore our newfound knowledge of the consequences of our usage of this earth in favor of getting defensive of the convenience items and systems to which we have grown so accustomed. Those on the earth now may not see all of the consequences, but those after us will see more than they deserve.

Regarding our stories about marketing to aging baby boomers, MNB reader Joy Nicholas wrote:

I have been telling my business class for the last 2 years that the most promising small business opportunities are in those that cater to the baby boomer generation.  Many boomers have discretionary incomes, retirement savings, good health (for the most part), have been dealing with aging parents and late launching kids, and are ready to enjoy life to the fullest... I encourage any business to focus on this large population of consumers.  Much success to be had if you find the right hooks.

From another reader:

I’ve been saying this for years and now that I’m 56, I’m certainly starting to feel it. As someone in marketing, I always been mystified by the endless pursuit of youth by some companies. The real sweet spot is where these needs intersect - but no one is talking much about that. It’s much more important to try to pigeonhole someone into a “demographic”. As someone who has never identified with being a boomer (although technically I am) nor Gen-X, I’ll just keep my head down, keep working, keep traveling and keep spending my money on experiences and ethnic foods like those Millennials, buying newer and better jar openers like those Boomers (LOL) and going AARP for the discounts, and feeling the ennui of those Gen-Xers.

We had a story about how CVS plans to reduce the amount of space in its stores that it devotes to traditional retail and focus more on a variety of healthcare-related services. Prompting one MNB reader to write:

It's good that they are reducing the space dedicated to straight retail, since these items are much higher priced than I could buy the same item at a traditional supermarket.  It's also ridiculous that drugstores doing over 100B a year in sales gouge us on HBC and other grocery items, IMHO.

Regarding our story about Marriott creating an Airbnb-like business, one MNB reader wrote:

But will they take/give points….??

My understanding is that Marriott will, though not all the details have been worked out yet.

Got the following email regarding my obituary and comments about iconic Irish retailer Feargal Quinn:

Wouldn’t it be grand if we had the same class and civility that was shown to Feargal Quinn’s passing, in our politically charged political environment today. His respect from his competitors and from all those who knew or met him says everything about this wonderful man.

He was of a different time and a different place. I’m not sure such a thing is possible in the US today. Class and civility are one thing … but tolerating the intolerable is something else again.

We took note the other day of a Wall Street Journal report that “America’s biggest milk maker is running out of options as milk consumption continues to decline in the U.S. Dean Foods Co.’s sinking sales also have been hurt by big customers such as Walmart Inc. opening their own dairy plants to help guarantee their own supply. The dairy company’s sales last year of $7.8 billion were down 38% from a decade ago.”

The story points out that milk prices have been falling, even as dairy cows have become more efficient. Which led me to ask “Did they have any udder choice?”

And MNB reader Mike O’Shea to respond:

Did you know that a dry cow is an “Udder Failure”?

Nope. I’m basically a city kid. I like my milk to come out of bottles.
KC's View: